To every baseball fan, no matter what team they root for, four simple words are a clarion call; “pitcher’s and catcher’s report.” We’ve waited for longer than we care to remember through biting cold and winter storm after winter storm, but it’s finally here. The annual pilgrimages to Florida and Arizona are underway, and, so, too, another baseball season.
Spring training is a magical time when baseball fans recapture their little kid dreams and reconnect with the charm of the ‘grand old game.’ It’s a time of optimism, new beginnings, and fresh starts, a signal of a soon to arrive spring and our first hope of summer.
Spring training turns every baseball fan into a seer, staring into their crystal ball to predict how well their team will perform once the real season begins. Some see only the pessimist’s side of that proverbial half-filled glass. Everything they say or do is somehow the end of the world. For other fans, if you have hope you have everything. That’s sometimes even more true for Met fans. I for one feel there is little danger of developing eyestrain by looking at the bring side of things.
There has not been too much optimism reviewing early projections from baseball sages regarding the prospects of the 2014 edition of Mets. I’ve read several preseason analyses that almost read as mirror images of last seasons spring training scrutiny of the Boys From Flushing. Most baseball experts have the Mets third or fourth in the NL East with no more wins and often a few less victories than the 2013 Mets.
That’s why I loved ESPN’s Mark Simon’s buoyant, upbeat piece on the Mets. Simon framed his column around an unusual basic premise, “If you make the assumption that everything turns out right for the New York Mets, what’s the best case scenario for the Amazins?”
Bad things can be good if you look on the bright side. Simon took the 74-88 win/loss record (bad) of last season’s Mets and flip-flopped the number to 88-74 (good) for his best case scenario for the upcoming season. Next, Simon applied the science of baseball’s advanced statistics to his premise that finds the Mets reaching such lofty levels. Met players would need to combine for about 36 wins above replacement. Finally, Simon added meat to his story line by detailing how that 36 WAR mark might be attained.
Check out his basic premises.
1. David Wright plays like an MVP and stays healthy.
It makes sense that real Met improvement of this sort could not occur without a huge year from the Mets best offensive player. That’s especially the case, when the Met roster as it’s constructed is not expected to be an offensive steamroller. In fact, according to Simon when this year’s Mets step in the batter’s box it could get painful to watch. Low batting averages and high strike out rates will be the norm. That means the Mets MUST GET MVP-LIKE PRODUCTION out of their best hitter, David Wright. Simon’s game plan calls for 7-WAR production from the Met third baseman.
2. Bounce Back Years
Simon’s hopeful blueprint is dependent on at least three Mets having bounce back seasons in 2014. In fact, Simon feels bounce back performances are prerequisites for even a .500 season. The improved performance must come from a group that includes Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Curtis Granderson, and Chris Young. Although Simon is open to any combination of WAR production that equals Wright’s 7, here’s how he projects it might happen.
In 2012, Ruben Tejada was a 2.0 WAR shortstop. Simon’s bounce back has Tejada putting together a 1.5 WAR season in 2014, something that seems possible. From 2005 to 2012 Curtis Granderson averaged an impressive 4.3 WAR. Simon’s plan sees Granderson coming in with a 3.0 WAR this summer. Simon’s lofty projections are also dependent on a solid season from Chris Young. Young was a 5-WAR in 2010 and 2011. To reach Simon’s best case possibility, half his previous WAR output would do the trick with Young at 2.5. No WAR value was given to either Davis or Duda in Simon’s example.
3. Zack Wheeler Finds His Groove
Much of Simon’s rosy possibilities involve the Met pitching staff, especially the starting rotation. First and foremost, comes Zack Wheeler. Simon cites his ESPN colleague Buster Olney’s choice of Wheeler one of baseball’s linchpin players for 2014.
Wheeler showed promise in his big league debut, but was hampered by command issues. According to Simon four respectable projection systems foretell a 2014 season for Wheeler with an ERA between 3.50 and 4.12. Those aren’t the numbers of a pitching staff linchpin or WAR horse. But, as Simon, points out, Wheeler’s projections are remarkably close to those assigned by the projection systems last spring to Matt Harvey. Simon’s reasons if Wheeler can give just 80 percent of Harvey’s 2013 output, that will add a very needed 4-WAR this season.
4. Rafael Montero – Rookie of the Year Candidate
All indications point to the Mets giving Rafael Montero a shot to be in the rotation at some point in the year. Simon’s Met win/loss flip-flop would like to see Montero’s name in the rotation sooner rather than later. Simon is impressed with Montero’s minor league stats and in the best of all worlds has the Met rookie throwing 150 big league innings, compiling 12 wins and a 3.00 ERA. Those types of numbers would mean a 3.0-WAR rating for the young Met pitcher.
5. Bullpen Comes Together
It’s difficult for any team to win 85+ games without an effective bullpen. That includes the Mets. Met fans are enticed with the idea of a Met pen loaded with young Met power arms. So, too, is Simon. His best case scenario finds a healthy and productive closer in Bobby Parnell, an improving 8th inning set-up man in Vic Black, solid supporting roles for Carlos Torres and Kyle Farnsworth and mix and match contributions from the rest of the pen.
Simon is not saying these projections and his 88-74 Met win/loss possibility is his prediction of how the Mets will do in 2014. He simply understands going into spring training every team is enveloped in hope and has a best case scenario. Should everything come up smelling roses, Simon’s piece outlines what it might look like for the New York Mets. Simon ends his piece asking Met fans whether they buy his best-case-possibility and the piece includes a poll to this query: How many games can the Mets hope to win this season?
85 or more – You gotta believe!
81 or more
Between 75 and 80
Between 70 and 75
Fewer than 70 – You gotta bereave!
Where would you place the 2014 Mets?